Recently, my parents received a letter from someone trying to find information on an ancestor who died in Jernigan long before they were ever born: a young girl, granddaughter to the local doctor/preacher and engaged to marry my great-grandmother’s brother, stricken with diphtheria before she could marry.
I’ve searched available information, but can find little. There is an empty feeling to realizing that someone – or some place – can be gone without even a trace. Searching for evidence of the life of Mattie Williams has made me think a lot about the entire Jernigan community.
When Mama was young and able to get around more easily, she saw to it that Jernigan had a sign marking the community. If it was stolen, she called a commissioner and had it replaced. Unfortunately, the sign disappeared again several years ago and has never been replaced.
Mama recently said to me, “Jernigan is all but forgotten. We don’t even have a sign to mark the community anymore.”
Jernigan was once a busy center for commerce. Because of its proximity to the Chattahoochee River, merchandise was brought there by riverboat and dispersed to surrounding communities.
When I was growing up there, Jernigan was no longer a center for commerce, but Daddy’s stores had a steady stream of customers, especially during the years the paper mill was being built at nearby Cottonton.
I was perfectly happy in Jernigan, as were my two best girlfriends, playing in pecan orchards, rye grass fields, and out- buildings that belonged to our families. Television channels were limited, but the Book Mobile came to Daddy’s store every other Friday, bringing with it glimpses into faraway places, every one of which reminded me of my own home in Jernigan, whether it was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s garden in Yorkshire, Betty Smith’s tree in Brooklyn, or Harper Lee’s mockingbird in Maycomb.
A Chinese proverb maintains that to forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root. Allowing one’s community to be forgotten would be equally tragic.
Marian Carcache welcomes
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